Although all have a common destiny each individual also has to work out his personal salvation for himself. . . We can help one another find out the meaning of life. . .But in the last analysis, each is responsible for finding himself.Thomas Merton
Regular readers of my blog may be surprised to see a post about friends on the Solitude Trail where, by definition, I spend my time alone and like it that way. On my hike of the Pacific Northwest Trail that I briefly described last week, friends and family were an important component. As usual, there is a story here.
As the call of the trail became louder each morning, and it became increasingly clear that I had to make that long hike, I began, as every long distance hiker must begin, by planning my schedule. Scheduling a long distance hike must include resupply points. Food and supplies are either mailed to the local post office, purchased in the trail towns along the way, or brought in by friends and family. I chose the latter option, though in the beginning I was convinced that it would be difficult to find enough people to make the long trip from the coast to the northeastern corner of the state. I planned to use convenience stores when I was unable to find a sufficient number of willing participants.
Many people had expressed an interest in joining me in the trail towns, so I began by sending a group e-mail to those people with dates and locations. Within one hour every resupply point was claimed, and I even got a request from a friend asking that she be placed on a “wait list” in case someone should have to cancel. This surprised no one more than myself. I was a solo hiker, yes, but it turned out that I had an extremely enthusiastic support system rooting for me on and off the trail.
First up was Shelli, a member of my knitting group, which met every Wednesday night at the local community center. Knitting, it turns out, has a lot in common with hiking: one stitch at a time, one step at a time, and in the process something beautiful manifests.
Shelli met me at the Seattle ferry landing on a hot day in July, and together we drove diagonally across the state to the little town of Metalline Falls near the Idaho border. After a steak dinner with two thru hikers, during which we heard of their adventures on the trail across western Montana and the Idaho panhandle, we retired to our rooms in the old Washington Hotel and slept soundly beneath hand made quilts, waking up the next morning so that I could begin my first day on the trail.
Shelli dropped me off at the trailhead southwest of town. Three days later she met me again on the road near the little trail town of Northport. That long stretch of highway walking was one of the most difficult parts of the PNT that summer. The temperature had hovered around 105 degrees for two days. There was no shade to be found along the road, and I had second degree burns on the soles of both feet after the long hot walk on asphalt.
I had planned my resupply points to allow an extra night in each small town, a recommendation I had received once again from Liz Thomas’s book, Long Trails. An extra day of rest gives aging joints a chance to recover from the pounding stress of long hikes. In my case it enabled me to keep my shoes off for most of the day and let the air exposure dry out the blisters. In retrospect I do not know how I could have continued without that extra day to recover from the burns and blisters. Shelli and I sat on the dock at the county park, our legs dangling in the cool waters of the Columbia River. In the afternoon, when it became too hot to sit outside, we retreated to the outside balcony of the Bed & Breakfast where we were staying and knitted while we watched the small town go about its business. Of course, she had brought along my project in the resupply box. It would return with her when I departed Northport the following day.
A few days later, after another long hot hike, I had plunged into a swimming hole fully clothed to recover from the road walk. My friend Jan and a couple of friends who had accompanied her for this great hiking adventure met me there in the little farming community of Orient, and we drove to Kettle Falls, where there were motels and restaurants. The following day we drove to Nelson, British Columbia, a resort town in the Selkirks, where we sat outside and ate gourmet hamburgers, something I always crave when I have been on the trail for a few days.
The next day I was back on the trail, actually a dirt road, that took me into the beautiful Kettle River Mountains. Here the road became a trail again and turned south, making its long traverse along the crest of this beautiful mountain range. I managed to get behind a day when I failed to find sufficient water for a campsite and had to return to the last water source. Fortunately, thanks to the wonders of technology, I was able to text my daughter, Leah, who met me at Sherman Pass instead of the planned pick up point at Thirteen Mile Campground.
Leah and I and grandson, Kaleb, spent the next couple of nights enjoying the little town of Republic and exploring the surrounding valley, going swimming at Curlew Lake, enjoying a pancake breakfast at the diner, drinks at the brewery in the evening, and of course catching up on resupply chores: laundry and repacking.
You might say that stay in Republic changed my life. The following spring we bought a house a few miles north of town and a couple of months later moved to this beautiful and isolated corner of the state. (See Following the Trail Home, May 16th of this year.) My friends on the trail were joined by new friends here in Ferry County, including a rugged group of women who hike together most Thursdays, allowing me to discover and explore the many trails of my new home.
So it is that two years later I sit at my desk and glance periodically out the window, where I can see the Kettle River Crest rising due east of my home. I can almost make out that solitary figure making her way south on the trail. Yes, she is alone. But waving at her in all directions are friends and family. And I am waving back. Thanks to all of you for being such a great part of my hiking adventures.